Why Musicians Aren't Paid More Fairly

Why Musicians Aren’t Paid More Fairly

Why Musicians Aren’t Paid More Fairly

Violinist busking, photo CC by meltsley on Flickr

Periodically I see these memes on Facebook: “If surgeons were paid like musicians…,” or “Hire a plumber for the same service and we’ll play for half that.” I sympathize, but this is the wrong approach. Moral finger-wagging has never won any argument, ever, and if it were to work in music it would have decades ago. So how do we actually solve this problem of musicians’ lack of economic clout?

First, we need to understand what’s actually going on. The moralists cling to the delusion that it’s just a matter of education, but even musicians can’t decide what fair compensation is: I’ve had the exact same budget called “extravagant” by one jury panel and “overly ambitious” by another. And to throw salt on the wound, moralizing also hurts our collective bargaining power. Take the common story of the lowballing nightclub owner who gets chewed out by an indignant jobbing musician. The lecture doesn’t make the owner any less likely to lowball the next musician. In fact, it’s the opposite: you’ve just shown him that he has all the power in the relationship.

Apples and oranges in the walled garden

If musicians were paid like...

If musicians were paid like...

There’s a good reason musicians and surgeons aren’t paid the same way: the medical profession needs objective standards, but objective standards would hurt music. In 1827 when Beethoven was dying of lead poisoning, pretty much anyone with a little family inheritance could become a surgeon. Neither blood types nor the cause of infection had been discovered, so surgeons would carry freshly used scalpels in their pockets, going from patient to patient. Nobody washed their hands and wounds were not cleaned or bandaged. Until the discovery of ether in the 1840s, a stiff drink was the only anesthesia.

Understandably, surgeons didn’t have the best reputations, and people visited them only as a last resort. But science advanced, a corpus of medical knowledge evolved, and surgery grew into a modern profession. Doctors set up regulatory boards to stop overconfident quacks from butchering innocent people, and they began requiring more rigorous medical training prior to certification. The fact that you have to survive through more than a decade of soul-crushing course loads, endure inhumane 30-hour residency shifts, wear diapers to get through marathon medical operations, then after all that sit down to write a surgical board exam—that’s what economists call a barrier to entry. Consequently, not everyone with the dream of becoming a surgeon succeeds, and as a society we’re pretty much okay with this trade-off. In fact, we’re willing to pay good money to ensure that when we walk into a surgeon’s office, the person examining us is almost certainly a seasoned expert and not some high school dropout trying to make a quick buck with knives he bought on eBay.

A parallel system is impossible in music. Nobody dies when a Rachmaninoff concerto is butchered, and if the jazz police fined you for playing Giant Steps without a license, they’d be laughed out of the room. Even if somehow we did manage to create professional barriers to entry in music, it would be a terrible thing. Establishment musicians would undermine any newcomers and we would get a homogeneous musical world built entirely on politics. Case in point: when orchestra auditions started being held behind opaque screens, it significantly boosted the number of female orchestra players, because women were no longer being barred entry based on their gender.

I’ve argued before that music is not a true profession in the full sense of the word, and this is one of the reasons why. Virtually all other professions—from lawyer and accountant to firefighter and electrician—can justify some sort of regulatory system or self-policing that creates barriers to entry. In fact, they need barriers to be effective. Music, on the other hand, is harmed by any such apparatus.

You are probably not an entrepreneur

Plumbers vs. Musicians

Plumbers vs. Musicians

There is also a good reason musicians and CEOs aren’t paid the same way: entrepreneurship is impossible in art. I’ve written about this in depth before, but let’s look at the issue briefly. An entrepreneur is someone who sees either an unmet need in the market or a more efficient way of meeting a preexisting need, and s/he profits by filling this need en masse in a way that strategically undermines the competition. Entrepreneurial models have to have some form of scalability to succeed, because the offerings need to be both affordable and profitable. They also need to be somewhat exclusive in design so that it’s not trivially easy for others to copy. These are the features that give business executives the leverage to command obscene salaries and so-called “golden parachutes.”

You can build entrepreneurial models around music, yes, but not within music itself. Starting a record label is an entrepreneurial activity (one that used to be a lot more profitable). Similarly, launching a Spotify or a Pandora is an entrepreneurial activity, because there happens to be a market for people to access huge amounts of music via a central online catalog. But it’s the catalog that is the business innovation, not the music, just as distribution and promotion were the innovations of record labels in their heyday. As I’ve argued before, Spotify could just as easily be applied to finding puppy photos if that’s where the market were going—the actual music doesn’t matter.

Founding an ensemble or composing music are not entrepreneurial activities because the models don’t benefit from being scaled up, and they are much too easy to copy. Even if you could release one album per hour or get 10,000 violinists for your orchestra, your music wouldn’t be any more profitable (probably the opposite). Whatever artistic path you take, you’re just adding another drop to the endless sea of music that surrounds us every day. From a business perspective, starting a band is more like creating a cell on a spreadsheet: relatively worthless on its own but of value when collected with other similar bits of data that can be corralled toward a larger purpose. Why? Because entrepreneurship doesn’t give a fuck about qualitative measures of value, it only cares how many units you sell.

Respect the artist, buy the music

Respect the artist, buy the music

So yes, entrepreneurship is a sexy word these days, but it doesn’t apply to art-making. Sidney Shure was an entrepreneur: he recognized a mass market for quality microphones and snagged a huge contract from the US military on the eve of World War II. His SM58 went on to become the most-used microphone of all time. Edward Easton of Columbia Records was an entrepreneur: in 1903 he contracted famous opera singers to record albums, because he figured he might sell more discs if they came with music on them versus the blank media all the other gramophone companies were selling. Columbia remains the longest lived record label in history.

ICE founder Claire Chase, on the other hand, is not an entrepreneur, despite having won a MacArthur Fellowship for it. She is a very talented musician, administrator, organizer, and advocate, but she has not discovered an untapped market nor has she invented a more efficient model for using music nor has she prevented others from copying her model. (In fact, she encourages people to copy it.) Being innovative does not automatically make you an entrepreneur, and the fact that we’ve lost that distinction is part of the problem musicians face.

Video killed the radio star

Art-making lacks certain fundamental elements that define typical professions and businesses. Unfortunately for artists, its accoutrements suffer no such handicap. When you couple technological change with art-making, you begin to see why people will pay $5.00 for a latte but not $0.99 for a song download.

They’re not wrong: $0.99 for a song is too expensive when there’s no value in owning recorded music because you only ever stream it. You can argue that the cost of recording the music justifies a higher price, but that’s irrelevant. In capitalism, the value of something is determined by what people are willing to pay, not by what it costs to produce. If your production costs are too high to turn a profit, you go out of business—that’s how it’s supposed to work. Records and radio hurt the 19th-century sheet music industry. Then amplified music hurt big bands. Then movies hurt opera companies and orchestras, drum machines and sequencers hurt studio musicians, DJs hurt bar and wedding bands, and online streaming is hurting record labels—to the point that Lady Gaga’s recent SXSW performance was sponsored by Doritos, not her label. Meanwhile, music is still music. It’s not like you can enjoy it twice as efficiently by listening to two pieces at once.

You’ve probably seen this infographic before, showing the number of sales a musician needs in various media to earn the US minimum wage. It’s depressing from the musician’s point of view, but consider it from the music lover’s perspective. There has NEVER been a better time to love music: not only is it cheap, it’s also infinitely easier to explore than in the days of the record megastores. And despite the lack of financial return, somehow new albums keep being made. Maybe that will change someday and the price of music will start to rise, but for now enough music is being recorded to keep the price on a steady march toward zero.

Nor is the live music scene likely to make up for lost recording revenues, because cheap recorded music also pushes down the need for live music. Dave Goldberg’s An Open Letter to Venues That Exploit Their Musicians was a viral hit, and he wasn’t fundamentally wrong in his assertion that venues who pay more for good live music will earn a reputation that boosts their business. But his theory only works in a world where most businesses haven’t figured this out.

Let’s imagine that we live in Goldberg’s ideal world where all venue owners hire good musicians and pay them well. What would happen? Well, most venues would either go out of business or stop presenting live music. For most bar-goers, music is part of the experience, not the defining element. They might enjoy a good live band, but they won’t always be willing to pay a cover charge (or higher drink prices) for the privilege. Sometimes having a conversation with friends will be more important, so they’ll choose musician-free venues except when they’re specifically looking for music. That means venue owners lose the casual crowd—the people who are there for a good time but are not particularly committed to any one venue. Simultaneously, competition for talent among venue owners would increase: the true music lovers would vote with their feet, having come to expect quality entertainment at every venue. That drives up the price of hiring musicians, so fewer venues can afford to do it. Goldberg’s scenario also leads to less opportunity for emerging musicians, since there would be fewer venues to play. The bar scene would begin to resemble the orchestra scene where a handful of top players get all the work and nobody else gets any. Everybody loses, except for the in-crowd musicians.

The end of work

The way musicians are getting squeezed out by technology is not unique to our vocation, although we are on the front line of this trend. Within 10 years, self-driving cars will make the professions of taxi driver, long-haul trucker, and delivery person as antiquated to our kids as travel agents and RadioShack stores are to us. Retail jobs will disappear too, because they won’t be able to compete with online shopping—Amazon is four times more efficient than Walmart, all without resorting to offshored slave labor or threatening the families of union activists. With more and more jobs disappearing, I think the economists predicting the evolution of some sort of guaranteed minimum income are probably right. Earning money—from any occupation—will become less important. Of course, that doesn’t help us much today. But we can be smarter in how we deal with the current challenges.

First, stop lecturing venue owners. If you become famous enough, you’ll be able to command higher fees and that will take care of that. Otherwise, you have to weigh the pros and cons of the gig: is there some other non-financial reason to do it? Try to look at things from the venue owner’s perspective and pitch them an idea that has mutual benefit. “You should change your business model to feature better musicians paid at a higher rate” is not very helpful, but if you propose something doable with a clear win for both sides, you stand a fair chance. I’ve had success with this approach even when negotiating with big companies like Universal Edition over part rental fees. Of course there are also times when it won’t make sense to take the gig—it goes without saying that there are countless poorly run outfits that scrape by simply by offloading their costs onto musicians. These people don’t deserve your time, and no amount of arguing is going to make the gig into something it isn’t.

Second, turn to your “hardcore 4%” to generate the majority of your income. As Jon Nathanson has pointed out, one of the great lessons of Kickstarter is that while the vast majority of your “fans” are willing to contribute exactly zero dollars to you art, about 4% will pay a substantial amount. These are your “hardcore fans,” to use Nathanson’s terminology, and you should charge them a premium for their loyalty. Of course they should get something in return, but your profit margin should be much higher than it is when you’re targeting the lukewarm set. Note that I’m not talking exclusively about crowdfunding here. This principle holds true for philanthropy too: the profit margin on a donors gala should dwarf that of ticket sales. And we all know the raison-d’être of pop music merchandise is to empty the wallets of groupies. Also, if you do go the crowdfunding route, you need to go beyond your circle of musician friends. If your crowdfunding community consists entirely of other musicians who are also mounting Kickstarter projects, you’re not going to get very far.

Third, collaborate with other people. Part of the reason well-paid professions command better terms is that they have organizations that lobby on their behalf and raise awareness for their issues. Maybe it’s the solitary nature of the creative act, but musicians seem singularly adverse to doing anything truly collaborative. There have been a few advocacy efforts, notably Americans for the Arts and the UK-based Featured Artists Coalition, but these are far from household names, even within the arts community. Can you imagine if all the indie bands of the Bay Area founded an organization to lobby the state government on their behalf? The number of professional artists in the USA is about equal to the number of NRA members (and much higher if you include the legions of aspiring artists working at the proverbial Starbucks), yet the gun lobby holds the federal government hostage on any number of issues while arts funding gets slashed with impunity. If we actually lobbied and voted as a block, we could change that. We could push for a yearly music-use tax on all radios and TVs, like what Germany has, or we could sponsor legislation that boosts royalties on music streaming. Even on a smaller scale, we’d get a lot further if we got in the habit of promoting each other’s music, creating a more cohesive “face” for our local scenes, and partnering with non-musical organizations. The “music ghetto” is entirely a product of our own making, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Finally, stop wasting energy on “shoulds.” Yes, musicians should be paid better. Yes, the economics of recording should be fairer. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in, so stop yakking and go do something about it.

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  • Great article. Musicians need to create opportunities and recognize that no one owes us anything. Like running a business, if you find an underserved market and fill a need, you will get paid. If you’re waiting in line for your turn to be rich, chances are you’ll be waiting a long time. For most of us, recording music is a marketing expense that promotes our other income streams, like concerts and merchandise. Creativity is needed on the business end as much as the music end.

  • Interesting article, with many good points. But your refutation of Dave Goldberg’s argument is a reductio ad absurdum. Certainly, there is a lot of ground to cover before we achieve your worst case scenario of an in-crowd of talented musicians sewing up all the gigs. If we even moved a few steps in that direction, it would improve the experience of musical culture, and discourage the less talented from pursuing music careers, both worthy goals.

  • That’s a fair point. Though since the market for hiring musicians to play in bars is unregulated, we’re probably at the “natural” equilibrium for Goldberg’s model anyway. “Moving a few steps in that direction” is unlikely without some kind of systemic intervention: e.g., a law stating that no person can be contracted to perform music in a venue run for profit without being paid at least X dollars per hour.

  • John

    I can only speak as an outsider on what I have observed as a music lover who really would like to be more supportive of live music. I really like the statement, “For most bar goers, music is part of the experience, not the defining element…. sometimes having a conversation with friends is more important…” I homest to God think that this is lost on most bands in this area. The volume level of MOST bands is excruciating. A deluxe reverb turned up in most rooms is absolutely overkill. I have had many conversations regarding this topic with friends of different musical tastes, etc. Most, and I am not making this up, will not go in a bar that has live music because they cannot talk to ANYONE. I have watched numerous people leave music venues for this same reason, leaving behind only the hardcore fans or people who are just drinking. I am tired and disgusted with whiny musicians who choose ecibels over dynamics. Take me on a musical ride and quit assaulting me with your 500 watt amp and drummer who is building a house back there.

  • John

    I meant decibels, not ecibels in my earlier rant. One other thing, don’t show up wearing clothes that look like you just mowed your lawn. You’re at work, dress the part. At least look like you care about your craft and what you’re presenting.

  • obie1

    it all comes down to bar bands doing covers and people who download / steal music for free… bullshit. Youtube has more bootlegs and stolen music on it than napster ever did and much like crooked bankers, nobody is ever charged. Too many musicians… if everyone is a rock star..there is nobody to buy the merch.. In order to tour and make money, if you don’t already have a hit song on real radio and the real publishing royalty checks in your mailbox, you don’t make money, and signing away your life in a work 24/7 for your labels 360 deal is not a good comprimise either… I would say they are systematically destroying the ways a musician or artist can make a living.

  • Jennie

    “…some kind of systemic intervention: e.g., a law stating that no person can be contracted to perform music in a venue run for profit without being paid at least X dollars per hour.” This is what the Union–the original example of musicians banding together, who might have had the clout to lobby the government–is supposedly for. Unfortunately the musicians were (and maybe still are, I haven’t belonged to one in a long time) the ones who were punished, not the venue owners, in the same way that prostitutes were always (and mostly still are) punished while the johns are set free. I did a Union recording once without having paid my dues in a while, because I hadn’t been working enough to afford them, and figured I’d pay my dues with part of what I earned from the recording. Before I could, I was fined by the union, and the guy who hired me got no end of flak for it, while the people behind the recording weren’t held responsible for not checking to see if I was union in the first place. My father, also a musician, got fined periodically for playing gigs that paid below Union wages; again, no repercussions for the club owners since they weren’t members of the Union. Which brings us back to the original idea of the Union, being a way for musicians to band together for bargaining power, and the ability to lobby.

  • You’re not the first person to bring up this question of the musicians’ union. I thought about including them in the article, but I didn’t want this conversation to devolve into a shouting match between pro/anti union people. I think the AFM is facing the same existential issues all the other unions are. My hope is that they eventually take a leadership position and tackle these issues in a productive way that makes more musicians want to become members, because I personally think strong unions are essential to a functional capitalist society. But right now, unions are not especially popular, so they’re not great tools for political change, especially in industries where they aren’t widespread.

    The NRA, on the other hand, epitomizes the modern political lobbying machine. They represent slightly over 1% of Americans, and even then many of their members take a softer stance on the issues than the leadership does. Yet they have most of the GOP in their pocket when it comes to the issues that matter to them. It goes to show that a political organization centered around lobbying government, as opposed to trying to police individuals and organizations like the AFM does, is a more effective approach for today’s political landscape.

  • My response is a bit long for the comments section so I put it in my blog instead:

  • John Fairweather

    I made a fair amount of money as a young musician in the late sixties and early seventies. Then disco came in and killed most live gigs; people just wanted to dance to a loud disco beat. I got out then while the going was good, and things are even worse today. Unfortunately, the never-ending high cost of CDs made people mad, and when they got a chance to get music for free, they took it. Now that is the norm and the only ones suffering are musicians. Play music because you love it, not because you want to make a living. Most people don’t understand the value of your hard work and talent, and they don’t care. Sad, but true.

  • I’m totally with you on not complaining about the “should” as that goes nowhere. But I think your definition of entrepreneur is a bit black or white. Where does the role of the craftsperson come in? I mean, does a potter or carpenter need to focus on scalability and efficiency? To some extent I guess, but they build their businesses one client at a time based on the quality of their work, level of customer service, responsiveness to customers needs, etc.

    I think the mistake that most musicians make is thinking that they”re not entrepreneurs, because if they are putting out albums and playing live shows they most certainly are operating within the parameters of the music business. Maybe not in the sense of being a fortune 500 tycoon, but like any craftsperson they are delivering a product and / or service in a given industry. The thing is…all value is based on either supply and demand or perception. So it’s important for artists to recognize this, so they don’t waste time raging against the system which does no good.

    Our site (www.AirGigs.com) is marketplace where session musicians and recording engineers set fixed prices for their services and thus far has been pretty happy balance between art and commerce. Being an artist and entrepreneur are definitely compatible, when your definition of entrepreneur includes people who are selling services or products related to their craft. It doesn’t necessarily have to be scalable it just has to be unique and offer value to a potential fan or customer.

  • Wonderful post! As a music educator I completely agree with you that we need to stop complaining about our pay and just do something about it.

  • mojobone

    The leisure economy, where everyone must do something entertaining to survive rather than something useful, may arrive sooner than we think as automation finally replaces coerced labor, but you might want to rethink your comments about Amazon: http://www.salon.com/2014/02/23/worse_than_wal_mart_amazons_sick_brutality_and_secret_history_of_ruthlessly_intimidating_workers/

  • Thanks, that was a very interesting read!

  • baergy

    Great article! There is a difference though between a career and a ‘calling’. It is very rare for someone to make a living at his calling. A calling occurs in every line of endeavor, the sciences, the arts, personal relationships or a trade. Most callings are at best ‘hobbies’ that don’t cost too much because they are subsidized with some inflow of cash. Also keep in mind that in reality, NO ONE GETS PAID EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE WORTH ! Some get paid less but most get paid more than what they actually produce and are therefore really worth. This goes for oncologists or ditch diggers, teachers or CEO’s, hookers or musicians. If you are not getting paid enough, by all means , please feel free to stop doing it. Why on earth would you keep going to your 9 to 5 that didn’t pay enough to live on and then just stay there to complain everyday?
    Another pertinent factor is Pareto’s law, the 80/20 rule which Aaron has already alluded to. The top 20% will be the finest musicians, and 20% of that 20% (4%) will be the cream and 20% of them will be STARS for various reasons and they will be the smaller part of 1% of all musicians.
    Architects, chefs, artists and even preachers are soon out of their market when they do not serve the customer.

  • The question of winner-take-all markets (e.g. star musicians, chefs, athletes, etc.) is important, because increasingly all professions are moving in that direction. “Calling” or “failed career” or “hobby” or whatever you want to name it, the problem is that this isn’t a very efficient use of human capital from society’s perspective. We don’t want 99.99% of people to waste their lives just because the 0.01% who become superstars are able to fulfill a niche need for everyone else–that’s a huge deadweight loss.

    The question of whether or not people get paid what they’re worth… that’s a bit too slippery for me. What is anything worth anyway? Money is just an abstraction that motivates people to get out of bed and do something useful. What we should aim for is that people get paid enough that they can afford to do something they’re good at. That maximizes the chances that they’ll be able to make a net positive contribution to society.

  • One way to encourage purchase of music is to state that your next album will ONLY be released when sales of your single reaches say, 10,000 units. If you GIVE IT all away, what do you expect?

  • Jennie

    Thanks very much for responding, Aaron. I, too, believe in unions in principle and have just been disappointed in the musicians union in particular.

    Organizing musicians, however, seems almost as hard as herding cats. It’s hard enough to get a sideman to a rehearsal, much less a lobbying meeting.

    That said, I enjoyed your article and found your suggestions interesting.

    Perhaps if more musicians had guns we could have an AFM wing of the NRA, thereby killing (literally) two birds with one stone?

  • Remy

    Nice Article Aaron! Btw I had a fun time playing at your wedding in Alberta a few years back. (; Hope all is well!

  • Jason

    “if the jazz police fined you for playing Giant Steps without a license, they’d be laughed out of the room”

    – not in Germany!

  • Dana

    Actually, I *will* pay 99 cents for a song because I *don’t* want to just stream them. If I’m cut off from the Internet, there goes my music. I like having an offline source. Don’t assume everyone has the same wants and needs from the market–I know this culture works really hard to homogenize all thought and make everyone want the same things, but it hasn’t succeeded wholly at that yet.

  • David Becker

    Have to disagree with the “price of music verses a latte”. Then why do people pay $600 for an iPhone? Not cause it costs so much to produce, but because that’s the price period!!!!!

  • TMarston

    I disagree with you about the invalidity of comparing what we do as musicians to what a plumber, say, does. The built-in “control” to ANY public professional is that s/he has to be GOOD (And work his/her ass off) to earn a reputation good enough for people to want to hire them. If someone books you because they know your work to be of good quality, then a reasonable understanding of the years of training, experience, and long work to hone the skills needed, should dictate that the hire is of decent and respectful monetary value… whether you’re a plumber, a tax consultant, an architect, a house painter, a wedding photographer, or a musician.

  • teledyn

    it was all going really well until the four items of ‘advice’ — not one of them will work, and I don’t think you can point to a single instance of someone who decided to implement them and voila, success.

    but I *can* point to stacks of people who took the unmentioned and perhaps unthinkable fifth strategy and IMPROVED THEIR MUSIC. And that can mean many things of course, not all of which will work, so let me clarify by saying you can define ‘better’ as that which gets you closer to your goals, and define ‘success’ not solely as bums in seats or ticket receipts or sales of plastic landfill (or virtual equivalents) but as the achievement of said goals. If what you want to do is bring people together and your music divides them, there is room to improve. If you want to educate about an era, a cause or a future and the audience tunes you out, there is room to improve.

    As Marshall Allen so famously puts it, “If you want a better world, you need to make a better music” and *that* my friends is something that *is* entirely within your control.

  • Corey

    en·tre·pre·neur noun ?ä?n-tr?-p(r)?-?n?r, -?n(y)u?r
    : a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money

    nothing in the definition about “filling unmet markets” – you’re confusing entrepreneurial strategies with the act of entrepreneurship itself

  • Andy

    Dana, you know he’s speaking of the norm. A writer can’t address every aspect of the entire music world in one article, so he (in this case) has to focus on the large scale at the risk of neglecting the very few. Try not to take these things personally.

  • Citing a dictionary definition may have been good enough for your high school English essays, but it doesn’t magically change how the world works.

    There’s absolutely nothing to be learned by looking at broad definitions, the insights come from exploring nuance. I’ve made it abundantly clear that my intention is to refine the definition and get at something that is actually useful. If you’d rather stick with the tired platitudes that usually pass for “advice” to artists, be my guest, just don’t ask me to go into business with you.

  • WandaZZ

    Imaginary logic!

  • AFM

    You missed the most important advocacy organization for musicians. The American Federation of Musicians, the largest organization in the world working directly on behalf of musicians. Research clearly shows that, due to the contracts we have negotiated over the years, Union musicians make higher wages, on average, then non union musicians. Additionally, we are the only organization that sets credible and quantifiable wage standards for all musicians. That said, our greatest challenge is member involvement, either in campaigns that we are working on or in the election of leadership. Just as in your reference to the NRA, they are successful because people step up and participate. That does not mean that either organization is a monolithic entity where everyone agrees on the agenda, direction and strategies for change. That said, as an officer of the Union, I spend, on average, 12 to 14 hours a day working to improve the wages and working conditions of all musicians. I made my full time living for over twenty years as a working class musicians, and it pains me to see the conditions that have led to the current state of affairs. It can be changed, but only if people work together to change it. Not an easy task!

  • wcb123

    Vinyl up 40pc last year 🙂 The Youtubers and Spotifyers haven’t killed us off us just yet!!

  • Pingback: It’s more Than Just the Music | j u l i u s()

  • Anthony William Howell

    This is a misguiding article to prospective musicians and a lot of the advice given here clearly comes from someone who doesn’t operate successfully within the music industry. As a successful musician who makes about 35,000 in profits a month and has seen revenue grow 400% year over year for the past three years, I am compelled to dispel some of your myths. Let me just first start with the “musicians aren’t entrepreneurs’ The reasoning for this is borderline horrific. You are failing to consider the current pool of music in existence as a market in itself and the future pool of music as a possible blue ocean market that doesn’t yet exist. Just because music is confined to being an amalgamation of sounds put together doesn’t mean that future unwritten sounds aren’t meeting and fulfilling a new market. Also, thanks for pointing out that “you can build entrepreneurial models around music and not the music itself” That’s the whole point. That’s why we are all entrepreneurs. These days it’s hard to make a living from selling the music itself so we find other creative ways (some of which don’t exist yet) hence the entrepreneurship. Additionally, you might argue that finding new ways to sell the same product doesn’t make you an entrepreneur. This brings me to my previous point that every song is different and therefore every product is different. It’s the same thing as Apple being able to sell “COMPUTERS” better than their competition. Is Steve Jobs not an entrepreneur because he figured out how to sell the same type of product better than someone else? No. Even though there is a lot wrong with the article, I need to make one final point to any artist reading this who might need advice. The second conclusion of the article “turn to your hardcore 4% to generate the majority of your income” is advice so bad, that you might go broke and be forced to work a regular job like the person who wrote this article if you follow it. The focus is not on taxing your most loyal customers. That will diminish your brand equity and you will see multiple inevitable problems arise from that strategy. Instead, focus on your product; the music. Focus on creating the highest quality product possible that fulfills a demand that doesn’t yet exist and then market it in a way which convinces people to buy into it. After you do that, focus on growth of your fan base and utilizing economies of scale to generate smaller income from a wider audience instead of a lot of income from a small audience. Good luck. AND LASTLY, think for yourself. Most of the advice given on the internet is from people who don’t operate in the industries they are speaking about so be cautious and don’t take anything as true until you question and test it yourself.

  • Isaac Darche

    I kinda agree with some of this. The tone is preachy. The theories are not coherent. The data is incomplete. If you really believed in action over “should,” you wouldn’t have written this article.

  • Living in Music

    This is the US model, which secures worth only with money. In spite of the reference to Beethoven, the article doesn’t address a larger picture in which music professionals in other countries are valued, cultivated, and paid well—often times by their governments. From the US perspective, it doesn’t analyze why some artists are paid tens of thousands for a single piece of music, and others take it on the road and barely earn their dinner.

    Too broad, too limited, bla bla bla.

  • Actual Songwriter

    The author is a hobbyist rationalizing his failure to come up with anything anyone would want to hear.

  • Good article but misses something important regarding live music.i am a semi retired pro musician with over 50 years experience and also had a booking agency for 18 years. When stdio work and record company tour support dried up in the 80’s I relocated from NYC to a city that had a thriving live music scene. I started playing with a band that developed a huge live draw. because of my experience in bigger cities I started handling the band’s booking. The problem was most of the clubs were not charging a cover. I asked around the club owners (and club bouncers who know everything!) and found that the rule of thumb was that the band gets about 15% of the gross. Figure, back then that the public, mostly college students , will spend about $10 each. with 100 people, That adds up to about $150 going to the band. If they pay a $5 cover and the band gets even 80% , that is $400 to the band. I had to convince all the venue owners to charge a cover, and bands that could draw well were suddenly making $1500 to $4000 a night in local clubs that had paid peanuts before.I gradually teamed up with other managers and agents to make this happen and found myself with an unintended booking agency. My argument to venue owners was ” I have a product that people are willing to pay for. You are giving it away for free. Why don’t you give your beer away for free instead? You will fill your club that way!” Of course, people will only pay if the band is top notch. Hence there is a “barrier to entry” in the music biz. It’s called a “cover charge” and only the better musicians can get it. The problem in many cases is to convince venue owners that the music has a value and they should charge for it, Giving it away for free has devalued the profession.

  • brendan

    Some good points though. Also, there are barriers to entry and there are many professions in the world that demand high salaries WITHOUT a barrier to entry. I think that musos need to decide if they are serious about earning REAL money from their craft. If so, work hard, become the best at what you do, and provide a valuable product to the market place. In my experience, people will pay good money for this. I’m a DJ and I’m in a covers band. We list all of our prices on our website. This cuts out the ‘price shoppers’. People are usually happy to pay for our services because they can see the value in doing so.

  • Liza Lavolta

    This article is vastly retarded and sadly I’ve lost time and braincells reading it.

  • John Furr

    So bar bands doing covers destroyed the music industry? Now i have literally heard it all..

  • Jason W. Thompson

    Says the DJ. Please point us to your original track listings Tony, especially those where you used live musicians to record in expensive studio environments.

  • Dana Franchitto

    “Entrepreneur” is not a sexy word.maybe ,it is the capitalist system that keeps many musicians impoverished or poorly paid. Also if you’re lucky enough to play music for money and meet certain standards , you ARE a pro musician. Of course, as many pop, country and disco performers show , if you sleep with the right people in the industry you can go pretty far economically. No talent required.

  • Lauryn Harry

    My business partners were wanting a form some time ago and encountered a business with a searchable forms database . If others need it too , here’s http://goo.gl/GijK1L

  • db

    You obviously have not gone to school for music..

  • Christopher Madden

    One thing one never sees in these types of articles is that most musicians are mediocre – keeping it to guitarists/singers here – they are young and cute and know maybe 5 chords, the capo takes care of needing to know C# or Bb, they’ve never heard of a diminished or augmented chord, and their “singing” is usually the common warble-vocal-fry thing so popular today. You see them at open mikes or small gigs and the audience talks right through their act, only stopping their conversations and texting to applaud when the song stops. (Unless the performer is a young attractive female, then the place is instantly quiet.)

    When you see someone who is a fucking ball of fire whether because they are supertalented musicians or incredible performers, those are the people who, zip, move right up the ladder and make money, because what they are selling is amazing. It’s mostly just-ok musicians who complain about the money. But why should a club owner pay Joe or Jane Schmoe holding a guitar anything but a beer? Most of them stand there with their bad songs, dress in whatever they wore to work that day, and look as though they are sitting on a toilet from start to finish.

  • Christopher Madden

    Obviously you wrote this post minus the brain cells, princess.

  • Amy L. Cook

    Let me bring this right down to a human level.

    This is a very nice, well thought out and researched article that makes several great points. That being said, if someone does a job for you, especially one that you can not or will not do yourself, then you should pay them. Fairly.

    But not making a fair amount of money playing music is only part of the problem; aside from not being paid fairly for the amount of time we dedicate to our craft, musicians are constantly fending off people and organizations that just want them to play for free – as in no money at all. I am not even talking about charity benefits or other worthy projects that bands give their time to for good causes, those are expected and I have no problem with the occasional benefit. I have been a working musician for almost 20 years now, and I have encountered just about every scam to get free music at a venue that exists.

    From “play our open mic so we can hear your band” (this came from a bar owner who had literally JUST watched/heard us play an entire 2 set gig at a festival) to “please play our music festival; we can’t pay you but it will be great exposure!” (yes, the “exposure” meme actually happens in real life, and NO, it is NOT good exposure. I have gotten, to date, 0 paid gigs off ones I played for free) and everything in between (play in our Battle of the Bands! It’s only $100 to enter, and you might win $500!). I have even had situations where our band had to pay-to-play, and I quite frankly find that insulting. I could fill a volume with stories of shyster venue owners and their scams for free entertainment.

    Our time is worth money, just like everyone else’s; music equipment is heavy and labor intensive to set up, playing an instrument is skilled labor that not everyone can preform, and we spend countless hours practicing and getting ready for gigs whether we are getting paid for them or not. We get taken advantage of because musicianship is a labor of love, and because venues know that we are not (usually) hard-negotiating businesspeople.

    And, I disagree: musicianship DOES have a “barrier to entry”. Maybe not as high a barrier as the surgeon example given above, but this article makes it sound like we all just picked up an instrument one day and instantly knew how to play it well enough to preform in front of other people. This is just not the case. Hours and hours of practice. Music school with real course loads, in some cases, . Equipment costs that are borderline, if not full-on, prohibitive. Ridicule in the face of peers and family because of our chosen occupation. Working another job on top of all of this because no one wants to pay you what your time is really worth. Having the correct temperament and mind set to even BE a professional musician. These are all things that we face on a daily basis and some people are not willing to make that trade, or don’t have the aptitude required and fall behind that barrier.